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None of the 19 State-Led Vaccine Lotteries Led to Increased Vaccinations, New CU Denver Study Finds

First-of-its kind research shows ‘near zero’ association with cash drawings and additional vaccinations

October 15, 2021

This summer, with fear that COVID-19 vaccination rates were insufficient to control the virus, states across the nation began to employ what was then considered a novel tactic for increasing shots in arms—large cash drawings that you could enter by being vaccinated. While these lotteries were a seemingly enticing method, a first-of-its-kind study shows that these efforts, which occurred in 19 different states, did little to move the needle in terms of increasing vaccination rates. Researchers suggest that other methods, such as better messaging surrounding the benefits of vaccination, might have been more effective.

“Statistically speaking, our research points to a disappointing outcome—that is, there was no significant association found between a cash-drawing announcement and the number of vaccinations administered after the announcement date,” said Andrew Friedson, PhD, associate professor of economics at the University of Colorado Denver. “This shows a clear need to reassess how we are encouraging individuals to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Andrew Friedson

To come to this conclusion, Friedson and his collaborators at Bentley University, San Diego State University and the University of Oregon looked at the number of COVID-19 vaccinations administered (per 1,000 people) both before and after the lotteries were announced in all 19 states. Comparing this data to the number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in states that did not announce a lottery/cash prize incentive, they discovered that there was little to no association between an announcement of a lottery and vaccination rates. In fact, Friedson notes that there was essentially “zero difference” in vaccination rates in states that held a lottery versus those that did not.

“This study is critically important as it gives us a chance to course correct and design better incentive policies,” said Friedson. “While other studies have examined the effectiveness of a single lottery, such as Ohio’s ‘Vax-a-Million,’ which leaves open the possibility that other lotteries might have done a better job, our research looks at how ALL state lotteries to-date have performed in tandem. This allows for a nationally applicable take on what works (or is this case, what doesn’t work) to encourage vaccinations.”

Based on these findings, Friedson notes that lottery-style drawings may be much less effective than incentives that pay with certainty, such as direct cash payments or giveaways, as individuals oftentimes prefer a guaranteed positive outcome. Additionally, and perhaps more salient, Friedson states that those who are hesitant to receive COVID-19 vaccinations may be heavily influenced by misinformation, meaning that incentives alone may be insufficient to change behavior.

“Drawings were not, by any means, an informative vaccine promotional strategy,” said Friedson. “It’s highly possible that putting funds toward clear and complete messaging on vaccination would have been far more effective, such as awareness campaigns or more aggressive countermeasures against misinformation.”